What Was Missing From This Year's Olympic Coverage

Lest We Forget the Struggle for Human Rights Worldwide

By Published on .

David Jones, CEO, The Cipher Group
Reactions to the Olympic Games -- their success and impact -- have been analyzed and communicated. The Democratic convention is now over, and Barack Obama is officially the party's nominee for president. And, no surprise, my vacation is just about over too.

However, during my vacation, I have had time to think, reflect and write about the monumental moments of the year. These moments have been documented daily in the media, but of equal importance is what is not documented, although these things are deeply relevant to advertisers, the media and us.

Before every Olympic Games, U.S. athletes must attend Team Processing, not just to pick up their outfits for the opening ceremonies and other gear, but also to be briefed on what to expect at the Olympic site. This year, San Jose State University hosted Team Processing. What's the relevance? Forty years ago, students of San Jose State went to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and created the most historic medal ceremony of all time. John Carlos and Tommie Smith, championship runners, took the podium with raised fists to symbolize black power at a time when blacks in America were seemingly powerless. They stepped on the podium barefoot to symbolize poverty in America, black or white. Tommie's Olympic jacket was open for the blue-collar workers of America.

It was both unexpected by the media and a peerless, memorable moment in the emergence of civil rights on the world stage. At the time, both men endured death threats and were viewed as a disgrace to America by the American media. However, in summer 2008, a statue was installed on San Jose State's campus to commemorate their heroic and fearless stance.

Lest we forget.

Why is this relevant? For starters, the media (and all of us) will always remember, replay and commemorate the singular feat pulled off by Michael Phelps this year in Beijing. We will see his dazzling performances replayed during American Olympic coverage for the next 50 years until and even after his massive achievement is surpassed.

Why is this relevant? Sad to say, the 40-year anniversary of one of the most memorable historic moments in Olympic history -- Carlos and Smith's stance -- passed by without any media comment, yet another piece of our mutual American heritage swept under the rug. Why should we remember, or even care, for that matter? We must notice it in detail because it is yet another demonstration that the media can be used as an addictive drug -- to tell us what we want to hear or what corporate parents want us to know. We must all realize that, seemingly at least, their goal is to keep all of us in a "bubble" of joy and euphoria, where it never rains and if it does, there's always beach volleyball that can be played indoors. The media does not always tell us the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God. Instead, they have chosen to be the sales force of only "sunny day reports." Conversely, it is the duty of the media to be unbiased and report the raw and uncut truth of the world, ecstatic or unnerving.

Just as America struggled with the ills of its society at the time of the 1968 Olympics, it is an undeniable truism that human rights are a daily and demoralizing issue in the People's Republic of China and at their 2008 Olympics. However, requests for permission to mount supposedly acceptable protests were not only denied by China but in fact were punished. In addition, the media said and did nothing more than move onto the next platform diving competition. Advertisers (who spent over $1 billion on the Olympics), China and the media shared a complete awareness and anxiety of what could happen to all the profits and profitable reputations involved in these Chinese Olympics if we, the global community, would see protests and be overwhelmed by the subsequent press reports.

Thus, the media, advertisers and China ensured that they would be utterly protected from all that civic "messiness" while reaping the benefits of having the world's eyeballs on their brands and products. Hard to believe that "going green," which advertisers now tout, could be more important to advertisers than human rights. However, their record here is indisputable.

When do we hold advertisers accountable for their pimping and pandering? When do we, as ad execs, agencies and the media, not position ourselves to be hos -- using advertisers budgets to pad the pockets without regard for the "big picture"?

Unlike Carlos and Smith, the athletes of China missed the opportunity to take a stand for their families and their country. There is no doubt that China's oppressive government causes great suffering for the vast majority of its population, is there?

Here are some comments from Olympic Watch Chairman Jan Ruml, who, as a former political prisoner in communist Czechoslovakia is no stranger to the ever-present boot of totalitarian regimes:

"For Wang Wei (Vice President of the Beijing Organizing Committee) to claim that the Beijing Olympics has led to greater respect for human rights is an outrageously absurd statement."

"The organizers have simply not delivered on their promises of complete media freedom. They also continue to detain potential protesters even as they ostensibly allowed protest zones in Beijing. Just like the fake digital fireworks or the insulting singing girl trick at the opening ceremony, this is another embarrassing proof that the Chinese Communist Party is trying cover up reality and abusing these Games for its own propaganda purposes," Ruml said.

Why is this relevant right now?

Fast-forward to this week and the riveting speeches by Michelle Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama at the National Democratic Convention in Denver. Here we are, 40 years after the cresting of the civil rights movement, and we can proudly see blacks and whites, women and men, taking center stage to unite for change. This is an event that media had no choice but to show, analyze and discuss, because the DNC's entire program has been scripted by the people who voted in the Democratic primaries. It doesn't hurt one bit that this is a great story: America, with all of its flaws and might, proves itself to be a place where freedom, democracy and hope are championed.

We have come a long way from the civil rights movement of the past, which in no small part was fueled by the sacrifices and courage of people like Carlos and Smith. As the Obamas spoke, I was so happy to be an American, because even in times of great turmoil and tumult, we still believe and have reason to believe that the future in America looks bright.

Vacation is actually relaxing. We get to exercise our minds, emotions and heart in ways that the daily treadmill just doesn't permit. And the fourth quarter promises to be filled with more great moments that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Why is all of this relevant? Lest we forget, life is great for many of us -- especially when the sun is shining and the beer is cold. It's always relevant to notice these things with gratitude, since life is what you make it, not what the media tells you. And we, the advertisers, the media and just us folks should go into the fourth quarter with a renewed sense of responsibility to the public that we serve.

See you in the office on Tuesday!
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